Category Archives: Oil and Gas

Is Energy East back on track?


It will take more than the appointment of a New Brunswicker as a “temporary” member of the National Energy Board to persuade the more skeptical constituents of the chattering classes in this province that the Energy East pipeline project has again found traction.

Don Ferguson is, by every account, a capable and experienced guy. He was a deputy minister of health in the government of Shawn Graham. At the moment is the “chief strategy officer” at a University of New Brunswick think tank. He also co-owns a consulting firm in Fredericton.

All of which, and the fact that he’s bilingual, eminently qualifies him for the job on the NEB, which is expected (in some distant, sunny corners of the pundit-o-sphere where optimism grows like daisies in July) to reignite the regulatory process for Energy East. To which I snort: Don’t hold your breath.

For many reasons, in this country pipelines have become lightening rods for controversy and public outrage. Part of this is the result of the sometimes breathtaking arrogance of the companies and corporate stakeholders that support the oil and gas industry. Part of it has to do with bucket loads of misinformation about the relative safety of these overland structures. And part of it points to the ardency of the anti-fossil fuel movement across North America.

Still, here’s what we know: No society will ever progress to a sustainably green economy without the essential, if paradoxical, contribution of refined petrochemicals; and there’s no safer way of transporting crude to downstream facilities than by piping it.

As for Energy East, we know a few other things, thanks to an admittedly outdated, yet still relevant, economic benefits report by Deloitte & Touche in 2013, which stipulated “$10.0B and $25.3B in additional GDP for the Canadian economy during the six-year development and construction phase and the 40-year operations phase, respectively (note: while 40 years was used as the time horizon for the purpose of this economic analysis, regular maintenance is expected to extend the life of the pipeline significantly beyond 40 years). This economic activity will occur within Ontario (37% of total), Alberta (22%), Quebec (18%), New Brunswick (8%), Saskatchewan (7%), and Manitoba (5%).”

It also predicted “2,341 additional annual direct full-time equivalent (FTE) jobs during the 2013-2015 development period (7,118 annual FTE jobs total for three years including direct, indirect and induced impacts) and 7,728 additional annual direct FTE jobs during the 2016-2018 construction period (23,498 annual FTE jobs total for three years including direct, indirect and induced impacts), or a total of 91,849 one-year FTE jobs over the entire period, primarily within the construction and engineering industries in Quebec (31%), Ontario (26%), Alberta (16%), New Brunswick (12%), Saskatchewan (6%), and Manitoba (4%).”

Meanwhile, the report estimated between “$3.0B and $7.2B in total additional tax revenue for federal, provincial and municipal governments during the six year development and construction and 40 year operations phases, respectively. Considering both phases, this revenue is primarily generated in Ontario (36%), Alberta (21%), Quebec (20%), Saskatchewan (8%), New Brunswick (7%) and Manitoba (6%).”

Finally, and most pertinently for this province, Energy East would provide a “supply of domestic crude oil sources for eastern refineries, which is expected to result in an annual feedstock cost savings of between $1.55 and $11.49 per barrel based on current refining configurations and the refinery location.”

Times change, of course, and so do commodity prices. But the argument for Energy East is still sound. One can only hope that the NEB’s new members – temporary or otherwise – will find it a compelling one.

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Running on empty in New Brunswick


We become what we think we are.

If we believe that we are weak, uneducated and profligate, the chances that we will lie down, refuse to crack a book, and spend whatever money the state sends us to load up on Kraft Dinner and past Christmases’ chocolate treats rise precipitously.

If, on the other hand, we are convinced that we are strong, innovative and prudent, the odds of our crafting a real future for our neighbours and ourselves – one we build with reason, critical thinking, social deliberation, and daily service – improve significantly.

New Brunswick sits uncomfortably somewhere between those two poles of conscience.

On the one hand, in this province we are gorgeously engaged, generous and rational. On the other, we are thicker than a sack of hammers at the bottom of the Petitcodiac River.

We, for example, continue to muck and moil over the possibilities of a shale gas industry in this province even though we know that market forces, combined with our own government’s foot-dragging, have effectively shut the door on that avenue of commercial enterprise.

With the price of Texas crude spluttering just below $32 a barrel, the entire oil and gas industry in Canada is in suspended animation (if not actual free-fall). Now, there is almost no point in imagining a future in which we control the uses to which we put our indigenous fossil fuels (if we ever have).

Still, as Adam Huras of the Saint John Telegraph-Journal reported earlier this month, New Brunswick Energy Minister Donald Arseneault thinks “the 12-year lows facing natural gas prices could buy the province more time to get the industry right – that’s of course if the province decides to go in that direction.”

Says Mr. Arseneault: “In terms of lifting – or not – the moratorium (on shale gas development), even if there is down time, it gives people more time to get better educated with the issues. . .and it will give government more time to review the report submitted to us by no later than March 31.”

He refers, specifically, to the research his department has commissioned from a three-person panel on the environmental, social and economic efficacy of hydraulic fracturing in the province. The question now becomes: Is he kidding?

He’s right in one sense. What, exactly, is the rush? Given the industry’s pricing structures these days, we have all the time in the world to, effectively, decide not to decide, which is, after all, what this provincial government has desperately desired for this fractious issue since the beginning of its mandate.

Again, we become what we think we are. If we believe that we are, by nature, cautious and conservative, then we will rejoice in every opportunity that removes risk from the process of democratic decision-making.

Sure, let’s take this whole shale-gas thing and give it a good look-see. It’s not as if the issue matters much these days. The market has bottomed out; exploration companies are no longer testing, drilling or producing; and as for public debate, well, all is quiet on the eastern front of environmental protest.

Still, what if we applied that standard to every other challenge the province faces?

Should “wait-and-see” become the new motto we teach our children as we ask them to find their personal and professional bliss elsewhere in Canada or the world?

Should we “be” in this place or merely sleep in it?

Are we timorous or bold and forthcoming?

It’s a decision we choose for ourselves, and it always has been.

In the end, we become what we think we are.

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Green around the gills


He bet the nation’s country farm on the Alberta oil sands. But, my, how Stephen Harper’s expectations have tarred and feathered the petro-industry’s chickens who have lately come home to roost.

The Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers (CAPP) now says that Canada’s western crude production faces a decade-long slide into something just this side of irrelevance – a condition no one saw coming down the pipeline of public relations even a year ago, when fossil fuel prices in this country first began to sink below levels thought possible, let alone reasonable.

Still, CAPP is fairly sure of itself this time:

“The Canadian crude oil industry is facing risks on multiple fronts in a market transformed by increased global crude oil supplies resulting in lower oil prices. Lower oil prices have challenged project economics and reduced capital spending intentions. These constraints have dampened the outlook for future production growth. Against this changed backdrop, highlights of this year’s outlook are”, well. . .not good. The organization expects the following calumnies:

“Total oil production continues to grow but at a slower pace than previously anticipated; total Canadian production grows from 3.7 million b/d in 2014 up to 5.3 million b/d in 2030, which is 1.1 million b/d lower than last year’s forecast; market diversity and access is still required to the U.S. Gulf Coast, the U.S. Midwest and Eastern Canada in North America.”

Meanwhile, “the timely development of infrastructure to obtain market access is a continuing concern. The in-service dates for many of the pipeline projects have already been delayed and could be even further delayed due to extended regulatory processes.”

All of which makes an Energy East Pipeline from the west, through Ontario and Quebec and, finally, into Saint John, a sudden long shot. And yet, here on the East Coast we’re still talking about it as if it were a sure thing, a done deal, from Ottawa (which cares less than nothing for Maritime fortunes) and Alberta (whose new NDP government is far more interested in further curtailing greenhouse gas emissions from the inconvenient truth of its underperforming bitumen deposits than it is in extending inter-provincial trade).

Indeed, it seems clear that the Conservative Government of Canada must now craft, in record time, a reason, other than resource extraction, to tie the country together and behind it – just as another federal election looms on the horizon. This may explain Mr. Harper’s unexpected, rhetorical withdrawal at the recent G7 Summit in Germany last week.

As Matthew Fisher of The National Post reported, “Although his children will not likely be around to see it. . . (Prime Minister) Harper committed fossil-fuel rich Canada to ending all production and use of carbon-based energy by the end of the 21st century. This cautious softening of the prime minister’s usual staunch defence of Canada’s energy sector was matched by the other G7 leaders in the closing declaration they issued at the end of their two-day summit. . .(Mr.) Harper seemed to have caught a break on Monday when a discussion on climate change that would have put Canada on the hot seat was cut to half an hour so that leaders could devote more time to global security.”

Obviously, those particular chickens have not yet come home to roost; but while we wait, it might behove our prime minister to acknowledge, finally, that climate-change politics is not merely the source of his own nausea.

It is also for a civilization that’s growing sick of all the fine-feathered friends of the earth it must endure.

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Reversing our job losses


In electoral politics, the easiest promises to make are always the hardest to keep. As the New Brunswick government recesses for the short, hot summer, it leaves with the uneasy certainty of that adage festering in the pit of its stomach.

No campaign vow is more facile – or more common – than the one that guarantees robust employment, despite evidence that strongly militates against its success. Still, every candidate for public office, regardless of his or her party affiliation, trots out the tired old trope, “job creation is our no. 1 job,” or words to that effect, as if his or her magic wand is loaded with something more substantial than good intentions.

Why elected representatives routinely beg to assume direct responsibility for an economic process that is quite eminently and obviously resides outside their wheelhouse is a question only the gods of political ambition can properly answer. The results, however, are as predictable as rain in the springtime.

As Statistics Canada reported last week, New Brunswick somehow lost 5,300 full-time jobs in May, just as nation, overall, picked up 59,000 positions.

“Certainly after a disastrous first quarter, the outlook suddenly seems a lot brighter,” a Financial Post article observed. “For that, we can thank an unexpected surge in hiring in May­ ­– the biggest gain in seven months, in fact, and more than six times larger than anyone had expected. And the majority of those new jobs were created in a previously unlikely location – Ontario, which had seen its prominence diminish in recent years as the manufacturing-focused economy turned to energy-heavy provinces for growth.”

All of which suggests that economists at the TD Bank were onto something earlier this month when they noted in letter to institutional clients, “The notion of ‘short’ or sell Canada became a growing theme in international circles, as falling oil prices added to concerns about an overheated housing market and high household indebtedness,” Derek Burleton and Leslie Preston wrote. “A few months later, however, it seems the bears have not been proven right. Data so far in 2015 show that investor flows into Canada have remained resilient and sentiment on the Canadian dollar has picked up.”

But as the country, on the whole, grows buoyant, the same cannot be said for New Brunswick, where the total number of employed in the unmerry month of May fell by 2,800 and 4,600 fewer people were combing the classifieds or pounding the pavement for even a glimmer of a job.

That performance was “bested” (if that is the correct word) only by Alberta, which lost 6,400 jobs. Newfoundland and Labrador shed 4,300 positions; Quebec lost 2,100; and Saskatchewan simply treaded water.

Never, however, underestimate a government leader’s sunny determination to put the best light on even the darkest circumstances.

Faced with the inevitable questions about his jobs record, New Brunswick Premier Brian Gallant insisted, “We’ve said from Day 1 that there will be ups and downs,” he told the Saint John Telegraph-Journal. “I think that’s (the province’s static job creation record in recent years) pretty positive when you look at what is happening nationally. Alberta, which is one of our economic drivers in the country, lost thousands over the last month. We have many companies and businesses here in New Brunswick that provide to the supply chain in Alberta, so obviously they are going to have some impact.”

Of course, if this provincial government insists on falling into the commonplace trap of issuing promises regarding job creation, it would do well to consider all the factors that are actually within its power to influence.

Shale gas, anyone?

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Towards a clean-fracking future


In a singularly breathtaking review of the facts, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency – still, the gold standard on all matters ecological – says ‘yes’ to hydraulic fracturing, within limits, of course.

Its long-awaited, durably delayed report on one of the most controversial resource-extraction technologies in 15 years resolves thusly: “From our assessment, we conclude there are above and below ground mechanisms by which hydraulic fracturing activities have the potential to impact drinking water resources. These mechanisms include water withdrawals in times of, or in areas with, low water availability; fracturing directly into underground drinking water resources; below ground migration of liquids and gases; and inadequate treatment and discharge of wastewater.”

Still, it insists in terms that could not be more certain, “We did not find evidence that these mechanisms have led to widespread, systemic impacts on drinking water resources in the United States. Of the potential mechanisms identified in this report, we found specific instances where one or more mechanisms led to impacts on drinking water resources, including contamination of drinking water wells. The number of identified cases, however, was small compared to the number of hydraulically fractured wells.”

To be clear, it reports, “This finding could reflect a rarity of effects on drinking water resources, but may also be due to other limiting factors. These factors include: insufficient pre- and post-fracturing data on the quality of drinking water resources; the paucity of long-term systematic studies; the presence of other sources of contamination precluding a definitive link between hydraulic fracturing activities and an impact; and the inaccessibility of some information on hydraulic fracturing activities and potential impacts.”

What does all of this mean to New Brunswick, where a potential 73-trillion cubic feet of shale gas nestles below ground, obstructed not so much by drilling technology than by public policy (a moratorium on the stuff is, after all, in effect)?

Well, say the pooh-bahs in Fredericton, ‘we’re just going to have to study the study, because, well, you know, that’s what we do.’

And so they will with all the enjoyable attention the issue deserves, given that New Brunswick currently ‘enjoys’ one of the highest jobless rates in the country, an absurdly high annual, per capita deficit and a long-term debt that would make a reality showrunner bleat for a chance to film the coming fiscal apocalypse for both prime time and Netflix.

The problem, of course, is that the Gallant government has moored itself to an ideological anchor. Its determination to utterly ignore the relevant research paid for by the previous government – for purely partisan and, therefore, spurious, reasons – has, in the light of new and independent findings from its largest international trading partner, forced its feet of clay.

If, as the EPA insinuates, fracking need not ruin the soil, water and air of this naturally pristine province (given proper regulations and industrial protocols), then what prevents the Province from engaging in the hard, indisputably contentious business of charting a ‘clean-fracking’ future? Technically, it now seems, the endeavour is not impossible. Politically, however, it remains untenable, as the gritty Libs try to ford the gulf between campaign rhetoric and pragmatic, responsible governance.

As for the EPA study, “it’s a major report,” a ranking member of the Province’s three-person Commission struck to examine the fracking conundrum here told the Saint John Telegraph-Journal earlier this week. Said Cheryl Robertson, who hadn’t yet perused the document in its entirety before her interview: “It will be an interesting read.”

More interesting, of course, will be hers and her colleagues’ own findings.

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Lies our province tells them


When I go abroad, I never fail to remind my felicitous hosts that New Brunswick enjoys the finest temperatures in the western world: Here, it never drops below zero, and, here, it never rises above room temperature.

Gosh, friends, it hardly ever snows.

I also tell my international confreres that the province where I currently hang my many toques bustles with sustainable, environmentally benign industries; its rural communities are economic dynamos that support entrepreneurial vigor and verve; its cities are jewels of downtown, cultural development; its public accounts are balanced; and, oh gee-whiz let’s just be honest, its future is as bright as the North Star on a late November night.

When I yak this way the English think I’m mildly amusing; the Scots couldn’t care less. In fact, only the Irish know that I am lying through my rose-colored shot glasses (after all, in their post Celtic-tiger phase, they should know blarney when they hear it). Fortunately, for representatives of this provincial government, the Americans are just a wee bit more gullible.

For, when New Brunswick’s cohort of trade officers and assorted politicos tells a Texas crowd of energy poo-bahs just how wonderful shale-gas development opportunities in New Brunswick might someday become, they may as well be speaking to a roomful of kindergartners. (Oddly enough, that’s exactly how New Brunswick’s cabinet members prefer to address the citizens who elected them on just about every subject anyway).

As John Chilibeck of the Saint John Telegraph-Journal reported earlier this week, “a moratorium on fracking hasn’t stopped the New Brunswick government from advertising the potential for a shale gas industry in the province. At an energy conference in Houston, an officer with Opportunities New Brunswick recently set up a booth showing a poster of shale gas formations in North America, including the possibility of deposits in New Brunswick.”

Did someone not get the memo?

It reads something like this, courtesy of the provincial government’s own website on the matter: “The moratorium (on fracking) will not be lifted unless there is social license in place; clear and credible information about the impacts of hydraulic fracturing on our health, environment and water, allowing us to develop country-leading regulatory regime with sufficient enforcement capabilities; a plan that mitigates the impacts on our public infrastructure and that addresses issues such as waste water disposal; a process in place to respect our obligations under the duty to consult with First Nations; a mechanism in place to ensure that benefits are maximized for New Brunswickers, including the development of a proper royalty structure.”

That’s a fairly tall order and, if I’m not very much mistaken, you can’t put it on a poster even if your eat-and-have-cake heart desires to.

Lamentably, Energy and Mines Minister Donald Arseneault appears to struggle with the conundrum. Responding to the news, he noted, somewhat confusingly, “Putting a moratorium on hydraulic fracturing doesn’t mean you can’t have conventional drilling as well. And a moratorium does not mean you have to stop promoting the province as a place to invest. We can’t hide from the fact we have a moratorium on hydraulic fracturing.”

Fine, but then why advertise to an international audience the province’s vast shale-gas reserves – resources that can only be obtained through fracking – when we have not yet crafted a commercially viable plan for lifting the injunction on the very technology that makes the business rational?

When this government goes abroad, it should remember that truth is a far better drawing card for investment than the banal and wretched alternative.

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Might there be a future after oil


As the Gallant government in New Brunswick laudably attempts to enshrine renewable energy as a way of policy, if not exactly life, in the province, a new study illustrates just how economically efficacious planetary survival is becoming in jurisdictions around the world.

Forget, for the moment, the nauseating push-me-pull-you debate over petroleum resources. Consider, instead, a report (brought to my attention by my good friend Yves Gagnon, P.Eng., D.Sc., and professor of engineering at Université de Moncton) from the International Renewable Energy Agency.

Its annual number concludes that this segment of the sector “employed 7.7 million people, directly or indirectly, around the world in 2014 (excluding large hydropower). This is an 18 per cent increase from the number reported the previous year. In addition, IRENA conducted the first-ever global estimate of large hydropower employment, showing approximately 1.5 million direct jobs in the sector.”

What’s more, “The 10 countries with the largest renewable energy employment were China, Brazil, the United States, India, Germany, Indonesia, Japan, France, Bangladesh and Colombia. . .The solar PV industry is the largest renewable energy employer worldwide with 2.5 million jobs, followed by liquid biofuels with 1.8 million jobs, and wind power, which surpassed 1 million jobs for the first time. The employment increase extends across the renewable energy spectrum with solar, wind, biofuels, biomass, biogas and small hydropower all seeing increases in employment.”

What this should tell us is that there is a good, clean, profitable life beyond fossil fuel; and that only a pervasive failure of public imagination keeps us tethered to a petro-past (of course, it is entirely possible and probably necessary to stand before history as reluctant hypocrites, paradoxically deploying oil and gas resources, inasmuch as they are used to build and sustain renewable energy technologies and infrastructure).

In any case, perhaps New Brunswick’s first-term Liberal government has received the global meta-message loud and clear. According to Energy Minister Donald Arseneault last week, new legislation tabled last week “gives NB Power the authority to deal with local entities on a smaller scale so that the economic benefit, the job creation and any money made from these investments will stay here in the province.”

He added: “There are all sorts of projects. There’s a biomass project and we have one in Dalhousie where they are interested in putting a turbine in the Charlo dam for one megawatt. And there are a lot of community wind projects. This is a way to create economic activity.”

It is, but as the IRENA report points out, none of it is easy: “In the coming years, renewable energy employment growth will depend on the return to a strong investment trajectory, as well as on continued technological development and cost reductions. Stable and predictable policies will be essential to support job creation. Finally, in a year when negotiators in Paris aim to carve out a global climate agreement, the broader policy framework for energy investments will also move to the forefront.”

And this is, of course, where the wheels have always fallen off the renewable energy cart: sustainability costs money; and the return on investment is more often a long-term proposition for governments and industry.

When was the last time anybody in the public or private sector openly mused about the value of durable benefits paid at some point in a fluid future?

When was the last time anyone dared utter the words, “social dividend”, as justification for sensible economic development?

Still, New Brunswick’s government appears to be heading down the only track that does, in fact, promise long-term rewards in the energy sector.

And that’s laudable, indeed.

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The origin of facies


Shall we see a reason to dither, to fuss or bother about shale gas development any longer? Or shall we move on and direct our righteous anger to more eminent calamities in this province – the hopeless young, the fatalistic elderly, the imperilled poor, the overtaxed, the house-proud, the land-poor, stray dogs and cute cats without homes to wreck?

Let’s face it, fracking as a nexus of public opinion in New Brunswick is as dead as a dry well. We don’t want it; we never will.

Sure, we will always want cheap oil and gas; we will just want it shipped in pristine containers that never leak, never smell, never foul the big, rock candy mountain that is this superbly self-aware part of the world.

And sure, we will always want what big-box stores offer: plastic, vinyl, more plastic, more vinyl. Never mind that 88 per cent of everything you can spend a dollar-and-a-half to buy is composed of petroleum derivatives – from shampoo to cigarettes, from sundresses to sandals.

Nope, folks, we are fated to play out the roles our human natures dictate. We want what we want, and the cheaper the better. That’s called evolution. Look it up. It’s the one principle that tethers all ideological tribes together, forever.

“My position is well known and I respect (New Brunswick Premier Brian Gallant’s) approach, because I do think it’s thoughtful and considerate,” former New Brunswick Premier Frank McKenna told the Saint John Telegraph-Journal recently. “What I like now is that there is a specific process in place (for shale gas development). It would be my hope, whatever the conclusions would be, that we would arrive at it expeditiously. I wouldn’t want to see (this issue) hanging around us for many years. I’d like to see us deal with it as quickly as possible.”

He is absolutely right, of course. Still, to say that Mr. McKenna’s views on this subject have ‘evolved’ in recent times is to say that Mr. Gallant won the past provincial election thanks, in part, to the federal Grit, anti-fracking machine operating just barely behind the veil that young Justin Trudeau wears to hide his pretty face from the voting public.

Once upon a time, Mr. McKenna had this to say to me about shale gas in New Brunswick: “We have in situ now, calculated by Corridor Resources Inc., 67 trillion cubic feet of gas. That’s bigger than western Canada. It’s a huge deposit. If 10 per cent is exploitable, that’s enough to create a revenue source for New Brunswick for decades to come.

“All in, it would result in about $15-20 billion in investment and 150,000 person years of work. And for governments, it would result in between $7-9 billion worth of royalties and taxes. The way I look at it, the real win comes when we take our indigenous shale gas in the province and hook it into the Canaport liquified natural gas (LNG) facility in Saint John.”

In other words, New Brunswick’s shale reserves could change the conversation about the province’s anaemic economy forever. They could transform the region into a jurisdiction whose wealth rivals that of a Saudi Arabian principality.

So, shall sleeping wells lie?

This province is justly famous for its ability to come a short way in a long time. Shale gas once represented an even chance to transpose this historically proven equation. No more. We must look to other, more socially acceptable ways to keep ourselves from starving and freezing in our own homes.

As Mr. McKenna might advise, we must adapt, if not exactly evolve.

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Doubling-down on government waste


For a government that appears to believe that duplication is the mother of perdition, New Brunswick’s Grit regime has a funny way of sticking to the guns of its political principles.

As Premier Brian Gallant’s cabineteers defund and dismember the province’s energy institute – a creature of the former Progressive Conservative government, established to provide scientific research on the effects of hydraulic fracturing on soil, water and air – they convene a panel of non-experts in these matters to do precisely the same thing.

Granted, the New Brunswick Energy Institute began under crossed stars (its original head was forced to resign after it was revealed his curriculum vitae fudged his credentials), but the group has, by all accounts, conducted its work over the past two years with circumspection and objectivity.

But now a triumvirate composed of a former university president, a former board chairwoman of the province’s community college system, and a former provincial Chief Justice, are being asked to determine whether hydraulic fracturing is safe, socially acceptable and economically viable.

It bears mentioning that none of these fine, upstanding citizens – John McLaughlin, Cheryl Robertson, Guy Richard – are geologists, hydrologists, or mining engineers (unlike those who lately worked for the disbanded institute). Yet, they are tasked with determining whether “clear and credible information about the impacts of (fracking)” are even possible. Stranger still, their mandate insists that they discover how and under which circumstances these effects are perceptible in “a New Brunswick context”.

Politics, of course, is never about telling the truth; it’s about spinning the plates on which you serve your own version of veracity. The proof of life in this dictum is in the current government’s utter disinterest in the work Institute members have already performed. Apparently, and for no sensible reason, we begin again.

According to the provincial government’s terms of reference for its new panel, released to the Saint John Telegraph Journal earlier this week, “the specific role of the Commission will be to study each (of the province’s conditions) in a New Brunswick context and report its evidence based findings directly to cabinet. Government has set a period of up to twelve months  for the Commission to complete its report.”

Meanwhile (and in some trick of political mastery), “the Commission will be independent of government, transparent in all its activities, open minded. . .and accountable for all government assigned resources.” What it won’t be, likely, is informed by the research and findings that actual scientists have already produced.

Findings like this, published this week: “The first research project funded by the New Brunswick Energy Institute and carried out by the Canadian Rivers Institute has been finalized and released for public consumption. . . .‘The document serves as a scientific review to provide background information on environmental flow assessment approaches and on the current status of environmental flow guidelines used in jurisdictions across Canada and internationally,’ according to Allen Curry the scientific lead on the project.

“The project was funded by the New Brunswick Energy Institute because there are currently no federal guidelines regarding determination of holistic environmental flows in Canada, i.e., guidelines to safeguard the wellbeing of aquatic life and maintain ecosystem integrity. ‘While New Brunswick has not experienced serious pressure related to surface water abstraction to date, that will change as the Province develops more of its natural resources, therefore we see a need to define policy guidelines and best practices for New Brunswick’s environmental flow needs,’ Dave Besner, Chair of the New Brunswick Energy Institute said in releasing the study.”

Forgive my obtuseness, but is this not exactly the sort of perspicuity this government needs, and has already inherited?

Must we always follow good dollars with bad ones in this province?

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The winter of our discontent

We could sell the snow. There's plenty of that

“Atrocious” is the adjective that Canada’s central banker, Stephen Poloz, chooses in order to characterize the effects of low oil prices on the Canadian economy in the frigid months ahead. Sort of like the weather, which is, on the East Coast, equally vile.

Four-hundred-some-odd centimeters of the white stuff alighted on fair Moncton this winter. A good 350 cms of it still perches stubbornly on the ground. The long-range forecast calls for another 40 in the days ahead, bringing us right into daffodil season. It’s a safe bet we’ll beat our 1974 record and top the scales at more than 18.5 feet of dirty, frozen water before the deluge is finally over. If it will be over.

Atrocious, indeed.

I’m taking safe bets that the last of Moncton’s cheerless snow mountains will not be gone before Canada Day, and while the rest of the country celebrates the arrival of summer by beach-combing with ice-cream cones, we’ll be repurposing our shovels as snowboards (having abandoned our gardens to the inevitable effects of short- and long-term climate change).

Oil and gas production, we are told, has something to do with this anomalous circumstance. As David Suzuki writes in a recent blog post, “Rising average temperatures do not simply mean balmier winters. Some regions will experience more extreme heat while others may cool slightly. Flooding, drought and intense summer heat could result.”

He’s kidding, right?

In fact, according to the United Nations’ International Panel on Climate Change, he’s onto something. It writes: “Each of the last three decades has been successively warmer at the Earth’s surface than any preceding decade since 1850. The period from 1983 to 2012 was likely the warmest 30-year period of the last 1400 years in the Northern Hemisphere, where such assessment is possible (medium confidence). The globally averaged combined land and ocean surface temperature data as calculated by a linear trend show a warming of 0.85 (0.65 to 1.06) °C 2 over the period 1880 to 2012, when multiple independently produced datasets exist.”

So what accounts for this (and last) winter’s brutal encroachment into spring along the northeastern seaboard of North America?

Blame it on the “polar vortex”. Here’s what has to say about the lately observed phenomenon:

“Some researchers suggest that. . .kinks in the jet stream that allow. . .cold air to spill out could actually become more common in a warming world because of changes to the environment where that cold air originates – the Arctic. Rutgers University sea ice researcher Jennifer Francis was one of the first to suggest a link between the steady decline of Arctic sea ice caused by warming and the extreme twists and turns that the jet stream – the fast-moving river of air miles up in the atmosphere – can take northward and southward. (At the same time that a dip in the jet stream sends polar air southward, a corresponding ridge can push warmer conditions up into the Arctic.)

“The idea is that as white, reflective sea ice has been increasingly melting to lower and lower areas in the summer, there is more dark, open ocean that can absorb the sun’s rays. As sea ice begins to reform as fall progresses, the water releases that heat into the atmosphere. That added heat could be pushing atmospheric patterns in a way that destabilizes the polar vortex.”

Lovely! Or is the proper word “atrocious”?

In any case, the oil and gas chickens in this country may have finally come home to roost. I’m buying a Canada Goose parka in July, when Moncton’s snow mountains of 2015 might just be gone – just in time for winter.

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